Exodus 20:8-11 says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.”
Last week we started part one of this sermon. If you missed it, you can go to grace-chapel.com and catch up. This week we will dig a little deeper into the meaning and purpose of God’s Fourth Commandment.
I grew up for a few years in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and Sundays were an experience. There were no cars allowed in town on Sunday; a kid could lie in the middle of the road and feel totally safe. You could not swim or go on the beach. You couldn’t fly a kite, and nothing in town was open. For so many people the sabbath is all about what you can’t do. To me that’s sad, because that’s not why God gave us the Forth Commandment. God’s desire was to give us a command that would bring joy to our lives.
Last week we said that “Sabbath” means to stop or to cease. Stopping and resting allows you to hear from God. You cannot become the person God created you to be until you’re willing to stop and listen to His voice. We said, if we are going to become more like Christ, if we’re going to be our creative best, we need to stop, we need to make time to rest and do nothing! We talked about how the Fourth Commandment helps with the creative process. You don’t just decide to be creative; you create in the empty space of rest. Creativity is your brain combining two dissimilar things into one cohesive thing. It’s the punchline of a joke you never saw coming. The ending of a movie or book that left you speechless. It’s connecting the dots to help you solve a problem, find a solution or form a new idea. It’s breaking free from the ordinary, the routine. You cannot come up with new ideas if you’re always in the same environment, listening to the same music, reading the same books and doing the same things every day. To come up with new ideas that touch lives, you need the time to create new experiences and thought patterns. So, we said part of God’s design in the Fourth Commandment is to give us a chance to create.
In Deuteronomy 5 the Ten Commandments are restated and the basis of the sabbath observance is broadened. Deuteronomy 5:15 says, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” In other words, God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm are not tired from the work of creation; they’re at full strength. God’s rest was not for recuperation, but for exultation. Here in Deuteronomy the focus of the sabbath is not just on God’s power to create, or giving us the ability to be creative, but also to save.
God brought you up out of Egypt; therefore, He commanded you to observe the sabbath day. Work six, rest one, and keep it holy to the Lord. It reminds us, and shows the world, that God is our creator and our deliverer. He created us, He sustains us, He inspires our creativity, and He saves us with his grace. What did God want His children to remember about the exodus from Egypt? Exodus 14:13-14 says, “But Moses told the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the LORD’s salvation, which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Our God saves.
Exodus 31:12-13 focuses again on the truth that the sabbath signifies our utter reliance on God’s grace: “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” The sabbath points to a truth that God never wants us to forget—that God has sanctified us. God has chosen us to be His unique children and set us apart to serve Him while we live on the earth. God’s purpose for us on the sabbath is to find our joy and pleasure in Him. Instead, so many Christians chase after false pleasures from activities that have nothing to do with God. The sabbath was meant for us to enjoy a time of rest. It was meant as a gift, a time to connect with God, a time when God can inspire us to explore new paths and new ideas to glorify Him and serve others.
As Americans, I think we miss the blessing of the day because we don’t usually have to struggle to survive like others around the world. If you worked seven days a week, without a break, in a hostile environment to provide for your family, with hardly any time for rest and reflection, I don’t think you would consider it a burden if God said, “I want you to rest one day a week and reflect on what really matters in life. I promise to meet your needs with the other six days a week.” That is not a burdensome command. It is a gracious gift.
I don’t know why this happened. It could have been because of their sinful nature, desire for power, or a misunderstanding of God’s grace, but the Pharisees added a lot of rules to the sabbath command and missed the spirit of God’s purpose. God meant it for our good. He created it for us, and they turned it around. Enter Jesus! He went head-to-head with those traditions, and brought a very different view than the one shared by the Pharisees.
Let’s look at this in Matthew 12:1-12: At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
What was wrong with the Pharisees? Why couldn’t they see the Sabbath the way Jesus did? Why didn’t they see the examples of David eating the consecrated bread and the priests’ sabbath work in the temple the same way Jesus did, and change their sabbath traditions? Jesus said the Pharisees “condemn the innocent” because they never understood Hosea 6:6, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” In other words, the foundation of the law is love and mercy.
Jesus drove that home when they tried to test Him in Matthew 22:35-39: “One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied “Love the Lord your ‘God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Pharisees couldn’t see the true meaning of the sabbath because they didn’t have hearts of love. In Mark 2:27 Jesus ended the conversation with, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, so the son of man is the Lord of the Sabbath.” In other words, if you don’t have a heart for others, if you don’t have a heart of love, you will never understand the meaning of the sabbath. The sabbath is a gift of love to meet our needs, not an oppressive burden to make us miserable or legalistic. Jesus made it clear: I am the Lord of the Sabbath and I’m taking it back from you legalistic false teachers and giving it to my people again as a blessing, not a burden.
The sabbath is a day for showing mercy and a day for doing good (verse 12). It shouldn’t be governed rigidly by narrow definitions of what work is and what it’s not. It’s a day to focus on the Lord, to let your creative juices flow, to invest in the lives of others, to embrace the heart of Jesus who said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!”